I woke today once again hearing a voice far off, reminding me of the annual race held in my honor, across the ocean, in a place I've never been. The race has been held for several years now, run by a squadra bearing my name, near a town with a small restaurant, of a peculiar kind, claiming vital health benefits; it also bears the letters of my name. The ubiquity of my name, there in that region, thousands of miles away and across an ocean, in a land I never once saw, makes me skeptical. I am not so sure if my name has become like the name of others--an emblem of something, a hollow term--or if they really intend to honor me, il campionissimo, the man Gemiani once described as a "Martian on a bicycle."
These days I ride the Dolomities and the Alps, even sometimes onto the track in Milan where I set the hour record. My pacing at 40 kilometers put me at 52:19, faster than all but one of the riders in that faraway region now go at their 40 kilometer time trial race. These Americans now ride on machines that put their bodies in strange and beautiful positions, prostrate, as if stooping to enter a narrow gate, perched on their elbows. I have tried these machines recently, in my peripatetic descent--this post-life existence I have--and end up laughing at myself. What would Bartali, the old devout fox, say to see me on such a device? I am skeptical, Cartesian, as Malaparte said, "believing only in my motor." What is the machine except the motor?
Now I am only the motor, a hum in the silence hanging about these echoes of my name: a restaurant with photos of me triumphant; a team with the letters of my name on their thighs; a memory of the very old in my Italy; perhaps as an anecdote ready on the lips of one of the British soldiers whose hair I once cut as a POW still lives.
It was Bartali who believed in right and wrong, ferrying Jews to safety through mountain passes. He upheld the noble and just.
Me? I was a bit of an asshole. I had my drugs, my women, my shady masseur, and my subterfuge. I won my first Giro, remember, supposedly in support of Bartali. I would never, as does Froome, stoop to help another if a grand tour was in my grasp.
And never forget, the pope refused to bless the Giro when I rode in it. All because of her who the newspapers called la dama in bianco. But why should I abandon love for the sake of divine blessing? Give up my earthly solace to the very same divinity that had taken my brother Serse at Piemonte in that terrible crash, in those days before helmets?
It was Africa, as with my Roman fore bearers, that provided my defining moments: my imprisonment during the war; my infection with malaria in Burkina Faso. But the death of my brother and the public scorn I endured when my picture hugging Guilia was printed that ended my living, not the malaria. I was already what they now call a zombie.
When I hit forty, I should not have been racing, but I was. Every day in Spain, that miserable place, I charged myself, but to no avail--I was the first to fall from the group, a "magnificent and grotesque washout of a man."
I take pleasure in this, as I take pleasure in having caused Pope Pius XII "great pain." The tifosi need not only angels, but fallen angels, for which to weep.